Some people have great success with online dating, yet there are hazards that must be known so your quest for love doesn’t cost you emotionally, mentally and monetarily.
One of the biggest concerns of online dating is falling for a catfish, or a person who pretends to be someone else. Scammers have made a lucrative business in catfishing people on online dating sites and apps to get money.
Some daters are so desperate to find love that they ignore red flags and warning signs of scammers and catfishers in a hopeful exchange of a possibility of being in love.
But sometimes, it’s just plain hard to see the warning signs of a romance scam. After all, scammers wouldn’t scam if they were never successful.
Knowing how to tell if someone is scamming you online will save you time, money, and heartache.
How do you know if you’re dealing with a scammer?
A good rule of thumb: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is and they could be scamming you. Other red flags include strange requests, refusing to meet up in person, and sharing personal information that just doesn’t check out.
In the case of a love scammer, they will fake an immediate connection with you, ask for large sums of money, or say they are planning to visit but at the last minute cancel due to an “emergency.”
What do you do if you think someone is scamming you?
If you’re suspicious that the person you’ve been talking to is scamming or catfishing you, never share any personal information with them, specifically your social security number or bank accounts; keep that information to yourself.
Also, block and report the scammer’s accounts. File a complaint with the police if you feel unsafe.
Can you go to jail for someone scamming you?
Unless you become an unwitting accomplice in a crime by sending a wire transfer used for illegal purposes, it’s unlikely that simply being a victim of catfishing will land you in jail.
Here’s how to tell if someone is scamming you online.
(Note: These signs use male pronouns, but scammers can be any gender.)
1. His profile is vague.
Start with what is stated on the dating site. Scammers often are not specific in what they are looking for in a mate. Thus, more people will respond and fit their requirements.
When making contact with you, scammers start by complimenting you on your looks. Wouldn’t you rather someone compliment you on your accomplishments or what your goals are?
2. He loves you, sight unseen.
“I love you” is a statement that everyone wishes to hear, but how do you know if it’s real? Scammers tell you they love you before they have ever met you in real life.
Think about it: How do you know if there’s real charisma there? Some people can sound great on the phone, but when you meet them there’s nothing there; or, physically they just don’t meet your standards. How can someone honestly love you before having met you in person?
3. It’s too much, too fast.
The other part of the “I love you” scam is when he says something like, “Something in me shifted, and I love you,” or, “I think I have found my soulmate.”
Again, he hasn’t even met you, and there hasn’t been enough time to know you well enough to truly love you in the way you wish to be loved. How can someone want to spend the rest of their life with you when he’s known you less than a month?
4. He wants to take the conversation offline.
There’s a reason scammers wish for you to contact them directly via private email and not use messaging available through the dating site.
You’re using a dating site to protect your privacy and help you avoid scammers. Don’t fall for whatever their reason is to write to him directly before meeting him in person.
5. He avoids questions.
“How tall are you?” “What do you do for a living?” — it’s almost as if his mail is sent automatically, like you’re on his list and this is the next standard email that is sent out.
Him answering with questions to your specific questions is a sign of a scammer, as he isn’t giving you an actual answer.
6. He keeps playing phone games.
First off, I don’t recommend calling an online suitor without having met him first. But if you do, if your phone identifies the calling number, and you return the calls but the number is rarely answered or almost always goes to voicemail, you’re probably dealing with a scammer.
Remember, there are a number of services where you can get a phone number with almost any prefix.
Also, if he’s supposedly overseas on a trip, and he gives you his foreign number and says call any time, it’s more likely his real number. Why? He’s more than willing for you to get the long-distance bill, versus him calling you.
7. He can never seem to meet.
Another indication of a scam is when there’s a distance between where you both live. When you say you’ll be in his area and would like to get together, he can’t meet with you.
This is a great test: ask to meet soon after the introduction on the Internet. If there are continual excuses, you know that person doesn’t really live where they say they do, and/or he isn’t truly interested in you.
8. He flaunts his income.
Most people who earn a decent living wish to be wanted for who they are, not for their income. Yet, scammers will often indicate that they make more than $150,000 a year in an attempt to set up the person who wants to know them for their income, and not for themselves.
This way, when he says he’s gotten into a jam and requests money, the unsuspecting person thinks her investment or loan will actually get reimbursed.
9. He wants to know how much you make.
Shortly after the introduction, the person asks about your financials as he’s looking to find out what kind of person he’s dealing with. In other words, he’s really wishing to find out if you’re worth his time to scam, as you have financial resources to share.
Think about your friendships — do they ask you about your financials? Not many do, especially when you haven’t known each other for very long.
10. His photos seem fake.
Ask him to send you pictures of himself. When the exact same pictures show up that are on the Internet, it’s an indication that the pictures may not really be of him, or why wouldn’t he send a different set of pictures?
Do a Google Image search to see if his photo shows up on stock photo sites or catalogs. Notice the background in the pictures posted online. Are they indicating that they are wealthy? Does it show a big house, a new boat, or something else that yells wealth?
Again, people who have real wealth do not advertise it. So, when a picture flagrantly indicates wealth, one needs to consider whether it’s real.
Did the person go to a boat dock and simply stand in front of a great looking boat and have his picture taken? Did he ask a realtor to show him an expensive house and then have his picture taken at the house? Be suspicious of pictures taken outdoors.
11. He needs to ‘borrow’ money from you.
It’s easy for a scam to be set up by a foreigner, even one who is not currently in the United States. One of the more popular scams is to pretend to be a resident who has either recently moved to the States in the last two years, or who is in the process of moving here.
Here’s how it goes: He gets called back to his home country to do a lucrative job with either really important people or for a really good commission or a big paycheck. Once overseas, something horrible happens that leaves him broke or close to broke — his money got stolen from the hotel, the taxi driver stole it, the airlines forced him to check his luggage and his money was in it.
Whatever the reason, a smart person, or one who travels, knows better than to let it occur. He asks you for a temporary loan.
Think about this. Why you? Doesn’t he have any friends or family that could help him out if the situation was true? How much money is being requested? Is the amount of money being requested realistic for the situation described?
Be aware that the person may ask that you send money via DHL, or another global service to a name, other than his or her own. This is a huge red flag, as they must show ID to collect the money, so his “friend’s” name is more likely his real name.
Either way, do you really want to get involved with this person? Ask yourself: how desperate are you for a relationship? Scammers count on that desperation.
13. He tries to guilt-trip you.
Most people are basically good people and want to help. So, if you start to get suspicious and ask if this is a scam, he will most often get mad and attempt to make you feel guilty.
Then, he must create a new heartfelt situation that requires you to send money.
14. He uses lovely speech.
He writes letters filled with love, as if the letters were written right out of a romantic novel. Listen to how often flattery is used. He just met you, so how can he give honest flattery?
In addition to the warning signs above, here are some of the commonalties among scammers. Remember, they have a plethora of these, but not necessarily all of these traits:
1. His name consists of two first names.
2. He’s from a different country or has an accent.
3. He doesn’t call often, as he would rather write.
4. The facts that he gives you don’t check out. For example, he’s not on the alumni list of the college he says he attended.
5. He must travel overseas shortly after meeting you.
6. He makes promises that are unrealistic.
So what do you do if you notice some of these warning signs?
Here’s how you can protect yourself if you think you’re being scammed.
1. Don’t share personal information.
If you have yet to exchange social media handles, email addresses, last names, or credit card information, don’t share this information with the potential scammer.
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Though the scammer may already know your first name, age, and city, if you’ve caught them before revealing anything else, you’ll be better off.
2. Report the suspected scammer on the dating app or site.
If the catfish in question hasn’t already mysteriously disappeared from the dating app or website where you first met, report their profile as soon as possible.
If there’s an option to leave comments, do so and explain your situation. This will help protect other online daters from being targeted in the future.
3. Block and report them on social media.
If you suspect they have shared fake accounts with you on social media, block and report those profiles, too.
Each social media site has different policies regarding fake accounts, but most give you the option to report them. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that the profiles will be banned.
4. Inform anyone who may have had their photos stolen.
It can be fairly easy to trace a catfish’s photos back to someone else using reverse image search.
If you believe your scammer has been impersonating someone else, it may be helpful to tell that person, “Hey, your photos are being used on this dating app under the name so-and-so.”
5. Get the police involved if necessary.
While not every catfish situation warrants police involvement, there are some cases where it’s a good idea to inform the cops. Just make sure you have some way to access their social accounts, email address, or phone number as evidence.
If you have sent the scammer money, call the police for instructions for next steps. You can also file a general report on the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
In summary, be smart about online dating.
If the new person cannot meet you in person within the first two to three weeks of chatting or writing online, he isn’t the person for you. If he’s moving too fast declaring his love, he’s not the person for you. If he falls in love with you before actually meeting you, he’s not for you.
Constantly ask yourself, how desperate are you? The more desperate to find someone, the easier it is for you to become a pawn in the scammer’s game.
There are practical steps you can take to ensure the safety of yourself and others, but also note that your emotional safety is important, too.
If you’ve been the victim of a catfish, don’t beat yourself up for falling for the scam. Talk the situation through with a trusted, non-judgmental friend or therapist. And don’t give up on love. Safe, real romance exists and is possible for you.
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Sharon Lynn Wyeth is an author who specializes in communication issues, couples issues, empowering women. She’s the creator of Neimology Science, the study of the placement of the letters in a name.